Welcome to the Holey Suit Game Dev Blog – it’s been a while I wrote a post on Holey Suit and wanted to post a quick update on the project. In this blog post I’m touching base on making the most of the hosting platform you chose to publish your games (namely Gamejolt vs Itch.io), and the endless quest for visibility. Holey Suit is a physics based space survival action game, available for free in alpha on itch.io and gamejolt! For more info on how the game came together, check out previous posts here, here and there!
A tale of two cities – Gamejolt vs Itch.io?
It’s been a while I wrote a post on Holey Suit! What’s up with the project? Well, all is going fine: the game is becoming increasingly polished and feature rich. Progress has been slow but I’m quite happy with the recent updates.
What’s new in the game? This is a hobby project so time is short, but I figure the latest additions to the game give players a lot of bang for their buck. In the month after release, I implemented really cool stuff: XP & ranking system, added survivors you can rescue, a new weapon and a brand new enemy type: the Hunter! In addition to some balancing and bug fixing of course. The current build is pretty stable and I believe enjoyable to play, with several characters to unlock and promoting different play styles.
Holey Suit is currently hosted on Itch.io and GameJolt. I published the game on Itch.io on the 13th of September, then GameJolt a few days afterwards. This previous post highlights the misadventures that followed straight after hitting the release button; things fortunately settled down after that first hectic weekend! Roughly a month and a half down the line, Holey Suit has had over a thousand downloads. Not bad!
Since I published the game on two platforms, I thought I would put together a quick comparison on how the game did Gamejolt vs Itch.io, and explain how I tried to gain visibility on either. Disclaimer: this is just my personal experience and I am not saying one platform is better than another. Both seem to have great communities; this post is merely about sharing tips on how I approach the quest for visibility, reacting to the different starts that occurred on both. I just hope this proves useful to others in the same boat!
The bottom line: reception on Itch.io has been great so far! My previous experience with Itch.io was Melt’ them All, a jam game I published for the Shenanijam. It got very little traction, under 60 downloads during the jam period. In comparison, Holey Suit has been doing a lot, lot better! Very happy with the results.
What did I do right? First, I followed the general Itch.io guidelines: have a nice looking page, and announce the game release on the forums. Second, I try to raise awareness of the game and reached out to a few let’s players which I thought might enjoy it. Lastly, I did some active PR around the time of release, i.e. tweets, blog posts & Reddit.
What were the key outcomes? The single most important event was the announcement on the Itch.io forum. The post got picked up by Leaf (the founder of Itch.io I believe!). He liked the look of the game and featured it, massively raising its exposure! The way featuring works on Itch.io is that featured games show on the main page and gradually creep downwards as newer games are featured. Looking at the stats, most of my download directly come from the main page, so this is were the user base looks at.
Other influencers: reddit accounted for a tenth of the traffic to the game page, although it isn’t clear if this translates to downloads (/gamedev is likely other developers, who might not have time to play other people’s games!). Worth mentioning, other 60 referals came from a PC Gamer article: free games of the week! The PC Gamer review was well written and very kind to the game, so that’s a big boost to confidence!
The downward trend can be explained simply: I think this is a representation on the game gradually going down on the main page and losing visibility. This used to panic me, but looking back I reckon this is a perfectly fine and natural phenomenon.
In a nutshell: getting featured is most apparently the single biggest differential for any game, whether this is on the app store, the play store or even a free game platform like itch.io! My biggest hope is that when the game moves to the next stage I’ll be lucky enough to get another feature 😉
Not much luck on GameJolt – the game was never featured and I’m at a loss on how to get a feature spot there! My general impression is that GameJolt is slightly less developer friendly. There is no obvious place to advertise your game, and you are dissuaded from self-promoting on either chat and forum. Maybe I was extremely lucky to get a feature spot on Itch.io, but disappointed the same boost didn’t happen on GameJolt.
Incidentally, because of the poor performance on the website, I found myself a lot more present on GameJolt vs Itch.io. I posted more dev blogs there than on Itch.io, and had a few tries on the chat; so far the results have been mixed. I had to come up with a few ideas to experiment with. Although it isn’t bearing amazing results, it did slightly improved the game visibility over time. I think I reached a point where the game is discoverable and gets low but consistent downloads each day. That’s at least that!
First of, game category. As I got to understand GameJolt better, I realised Holey Suit might have a problem with its category. Itch.io is a lot more flexible with this through the use of Tags and also extra filters such as accessibility or input methods. My first observation was the rate of page views vs downloads. Ratio was around 1 to 5 people downloading the game after seeing the page on GameJolt.
What did that tell me? That there might be a problem there. My conversion rate on Itch.io was 1 to 3, i.e. out of 3 persons visiting the game page one ended up downloading the game. This made me wonder not only about visibility, but whether the game fit its current category. My original category was “Arcade”, maybe people looking for games in that category expected something else? I Set out to try different categories for a few days and monitored the results. Eventually, I opted for Shooter, a good fit I think for a space-themed game.
Another big discovery on GameJolt were hashtags! This instantly gave me a great advantage: out of a dozen of official labels available on GameJolt, three apply to Holey Suit! 🙂 The game is both a #survival and #scifi game, as well as having a #retro look! These meant that Holey Suit (and any dev blog posted on GameJolt) would come up quite high when people searched for these labels from the main page.
One last thing I did: changing the game thumbnail. Contrary to Itch.io where you need to hover over the game to animate the thumbnail, GameJolt plays straight any GIF in a loop on the main page. I thought I’d create a quick in-game GIF animation that would convey the game look & feel. An animated thumbnail would help draw the eye to the game, whilst showcasing the retro look of the game. This hopefully would ensure only players that like pixels would click on it!
Overall these changes seemed to have worked: the conversion rate went from 5 to 3, which is now similar to what I get on Itch.io. Downloads are low, but consistent day in day out.
To be continued..
So, what conclusion can I draw of my short experience with Gamejolt vs Itch.io? Past the initial feature boost I got on Itch.io, both sites are now hedging to a par, with the game performing somewhat better on Itch.io. On both platforms downloads now seem to average around 5 or 6 downloads a day. The page views vs download conversion rate is around 1 to 3, which leads me to think the game & its page is reaching its audience ok. People that do not like the screenshots just don’t download the game, and that’s fine!
That means that without much PR (i.e. the odd #screenshotsaturday tweet) the game is discoverable and reaches a small, but steady audience. Although it has a better exposure overall on Itch.io, I think it is worth keeping the game on both platforms to tap into their respective communities. I have also noticed some Let’s Players are only on one platform and not the other. Since my PR strategy so far is to get exposure on Youtube, it is important to be on both.
Of course I’d love the game to do better than 6 downloads a day, but I also understand its current shortfall: it is lacking… Well, an objective! So far all my focus was on making the game replayable. Unlocking characters, progressing them by collecting XP, unlocking new weapons etc. One trouble might be that the game is pretty hard! In its current state, people aren’t necessarily driven to get past the initial difficulty spike. It’s not all negative of course: an encouraging fact is that the game is getting unsolicited Let’s Play videos. They come sporadically (a new one every week or so) but nether the less, this feels very rewarding! It is also nice to see reviews using more updated/polished versions of the game.
So what next? Holey Suit: Story Mode! I am actively working on the campaign. Is objective is two folds: teach the players the quirky mechanics, and allow them to enjoy a story whilst getting better at the game. I don’t plan on having a huge campaign – the arcade mode is there to ensure people that like the game have ample replayability. It will replace the current tutorial though, which is to be blunt, quite amateur-ish and boring!
Hopefully, pushing the story mode will allow me to announce the game to alpha. A story to follow might make the game more fun for Let’s Plays. With this, I also hope people that have played and enjoyed the game will give it another go. And if this somehow enables Holey Suit to get another feature spot, that would be amazing! That’s the master plan anyway.. Loads of work to do until then 🙂
Until then.. As usual, feel free to comment, reach out